"Wo Hop in Chinatown on Mott St."

Shooter Jennings - Singer/Songwriter


That word sums up how we feel about Chinese food. When we first thought up of ChowFu, the idea was to share our favorite Chinese recipes with all of our friends and family. Shooter helps us realize that dream by picking a legendary restaurant in the old school Chinatown of NYC. Wo Hop. Now, Wo Hop is less authentic Chinese and more "A Christmas Story" Chinese, but the nostagia from that subterranean dungeon with its faded wallpaper of celebrity photos inspires us to share seven of our go-to Cantonese dishes.

We don't do a lot of Americanized Chinese at ChowFu, despite our affinity for Panda Express and MSG. But 17 Mott Street is the stuff of legends. There are two Wo Hops, right next to one another. 17 Mott is the one in the basement, serving Americanized Chinese food since the 1930s. You heard right, over 75 freakin' years. "An authentic taste of an inauthentic past" is how The New York Times describes Wo Hop. Oh sure, their sister restaurant next door serves authenic cantonese dishes, but no one goes to that one. You don't go to Wo Hop unless you want cornstarch thickened sauces slathered over questionable cuts of meat. And yes, it's cash only.

We have with a high degree of certainty determined that Wo Hop is the closest thing most of us will ever come to regarding time travel. And to help bring a time machine into your own home, we've compiled a list of handy ingredients that are very important when building out a Chinese Pantry. Have you ever wondered how chinese restaurants can bring food to your table seconds after you order from their encyclopedic (sometimes unappetizingly sticky) menu?

It's because chinese cooking is 90% prep and 10% stirring things around a wok. To become a master at chinese cuisine requires stocking your pantry with the right ingredients. Sure, you can look up the receipe you want and just buy everything on the required ingredients list. But by having a handful of items, those that come up time and again in chinese cooking, a simple meal can be made without requiring much forethought.

In researching what these key items are, we relied on the experts in chinese cuisine. In particular, three of our favorite books on the topic.

These books heavily inflence many of the recipes you see on ChowFu, and we wanted to know what the key ingredients were that make up the dishes in these books. To accomplish this, we decomposed the dishes and took a look inside. [Note: The link provided is an affiliate link to Amazon. If you want to help support and subsidize the cost of running our website, just click on the link above when you do your regular Amazon shopping. It comes at no cost to you and we get some credit from Amazon for the referral! Furthermore, we only link to items we own and highly recommend.]

Dunlop Lo Pei
Ingredient % Ingredient % Ingredient %
Spring Onion 59% Ginger 60% Cornstarch 66%
Ginger 43% Peanut Oil 49% Soy Sauce 65%
Light Soy Sauce 41% Sesame Oil 47% Wine 61%
Sesame Oil 34% Shaoxing Wine 47% Spring Onion 55%
Garlic 33% White Pepper 47% Sesame Oil 52%
Chicken Stock 30% Spring Onion 44% Ginger 49%
Shaoxing Wine 28% Oyster Sauce 34% Soup Stock 29%
Potato Flour 25% Light Soy Sauce 33% Chicken 18%
Chinkian Vinegar 21% Garlic 32% Egg White 15%
Sichuan Pepper 20% Cornstarch 27% Brown Vinegar 14%
White Pepper 17% Chicken Stock 26% Dried Shiitake Mushrooms 14%
Chili Oil 15% Double Dark Soy Sauce 24% Ham 14%
Dark Soy Sauce 14% Rice Vinegar 22% Bamboo Shoot 13%
Egg 13% Egg 16% Egg 13%
Red Chilies 10% Shrimp 13% Lard 13%
Sichuan Chili Bean Paste 9% Baking Soda 12% Flour 12%
Red Bell Pepper 8% Bamboo Shoot 11% Garlic 11%
Dried Chilies 7% Dried Shiitake Mushrooms 11% Shrimp 11%
Dried Shiitake Mushrooms 7% Water Chestnuts 11% Star Anise 11%
Fermented Black Beans 7% Rice Wine 10% Brown Peppercorn 10%


There's a lot of not so subtle differences between the recipes in these books, but for now that is beyond the scope of this blog. We will revisit this dataset with a future article to further delve into the makings of a chinese dish. In the meantime, we have generated the ten most important ingredients (besides Salt, Sugar, and Cooking Oil) that you should have in your Chinese Pantry:

  1. Spring Onion (Scallions)
  2. Ginger
  3. Sesame Oil
  4. Cornstarch
  5. Shaoxing Wine
  6. Light Soy Sauce
  7. Garlic
  8. White Pepper
  9. Chicken Stock
  10. Regular Soy Sauce

Most of these Top Ten ingredients should be found in your local grocery store, with the possible exception of Shaoxing Wine. If not, a trip to Chinatown in the closest big city should be able to get you some excellent deals on these ingredients.